As tensions continue to mount between France and Ivory Coast, French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie says Paris has no intention of withdrawing its troops from the West African country. Lisa Bryant has more on Mrs. Alliot-Marie's remarks to reporters Monday in Paris.
At a luncheon meeting with reporters in Paris, Mrs. Alliot-Marie warned that without French and other peacekeeping troops in Ivory Coast, the once-peaceful African country could be wracked by killings similar to the Rwandan massacres a decade ago.
The French Defense Minister also said that elections scheduled for 2005 were critical to help preserve the territorial integrity of Ivory Coast.. She warned that the instability now crippling the West African country risks spreading outside its borders.
Mrs. Alliot-Marie said France is not motivated by self-interest, economic or otherwise, in Ivory Coast, but rather is involved in the country because of emotional ties that remain from colonial times, and a desire to ensure peace in the region.
Mrs. Alliot-Marie's remarks came as French soldiers in Ivory Coast continued airlifting foreigners out of the African country. So far more than five thousand foreigners have fled the violence. French news organizations have reported widespread looting of foreign interests by young supporters of Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo, and a few particularly violent rapes.
About 5,000 French peacekeeping soldiers are in Ivory Coast. But relations between France and Mr. Gbagbo's government have been tense for months, and disintegrated further after Ivorian forces bombed a French military camp earlier this month. France responded by destroying virtually all of the small Ivorian air force.
On Sunday, French President Jacques Chirac warned against what he called "excesses" that might be committed by Mr. Gbagbo's government, which he termed "questionable."
Mr. Gbagbo also offered harsh remarks in several interviews with European newspapers. In France's Liberation newspaper Monday, he likened the presence French forces in Ivory Coast's commercial capital, Abidjan, to the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.